Mix a great idea with tech spirit and wait for the boom

Digitally agile entrepreneurs have the vision and ambition to upset markets and create new ones

For smart entrepreneurs, there are few corners of industry or our daily lives that cannot be improved, shaken up or reinvented. From healthcare to insurance, our in-depth research with Fast Track has identified 10 of the most disruptive British businesses. Through foresight, hard work and digital nous, they’re transforming long-established markets and practices, and even creating entirely new ones.

They may operate in different sectors, but these trailblazers — our Disruptors to Watch 10 — have much in common. Their focus on digital advances is no surprise in a world where you now expect your plumber or cleaner to accept payments online and run a decent website. They know that being digitally agile is no longer a “nice to have”; it’s a must-have.

Many businesses are aware that they need to start some kind of digital transformation, but many aren’t sure where to begin. At Virgin Media Business we understand — it’s why we’ve made it our purpose to help all businesses fulfil their digital potential.

That’s something Zego, one of our disruptors, clearly understands. Its smartphone app offers pay-as-you-go insurance, starting at 55p an hour, to car and scooter owners working in the gig economy. As co-founder and chief executive Harry Franks explains: “We are using technology that fundamentally changes the product offering in the on-demand space that traditional insurers have found hard to access, or where their legacy systems have prevented them from doing so.”

Some of the firms on our list are even doing their bit to accelerate digital innovation in other, far larger organisations. For example, babylon is starting to radically change how the NHS delivers healthcare, thanks to an AI-driven app that enables patients to check symptoms and consult GPs from their smartphone.

“We created babylon to do with healthcare what Google did with information,” says founder and chief executive Ali Parsa. “Our vision is to make it accessible and affordable and put it in the hands of every person on Earth.”

Started in 2013, babylon has already signed up more than 1.5m users in the UK, Ireland and Rwanda. I think of them as a great example of how a new generation of business leaders are not fazed by existing market barriers. It’s exciting to see entrepreneurs plotting expansion across five continents when all they have is a couple of desks and a website — that’s the power of shrewd use of digital technology.

Another of our disruptors, what3words, also founded in 2013, has created a simple but ingenious address system that divides the world into 57 trillion three-metre squares, each assigned a combination of three random words. These addresses are easier to remember than GPS coordinates and cover areas of the world where no address systems are in place.

The company’s co-founder and chief executive Chris Sheldrick says: “Our objective is to become a global standard for addressing, recognised on devices, in search bars and in cars as a simple way to talk about anywhere.” It’s an approach that’s already won customers from Mercedes-Benz to the Red Cross.

Another common trait in the new entrepreneurs is a vision and purpose beyond a healthy bottom line.

To take one such example, Cambridge Medical Robotics has developed low-cost, portable surgical robots, which are now protected by more than 150 patents and have the potential to make keyhole surgery more accessible to 7m patients.

Another, AgriProtein, makes insect-based animal feeds, which are more sustainable and cost-effective than widely used fishmeal feeds. It has received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an award from the Australian government for providing a sustainable alternative to fish from the Indian Ocean.

Such ventures have a welcome place in the business community we support at Virgin Media Business. Whether through our Voom Pitch competition or this year’s Voom Tour, which provided mentoring sessions around the UK, we’re keen to nurture pioneering entrepreneurs who are doing amazing things that enhance people’s lives.

That’s why we’re proud and inspired to be involved in the Disruptors to Watch 10 and Fast Track 100 awards again this year.

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